An Interview with Mark Stephens, Director of Project F.I.S.H., an local educational program meant to get youth involved in recreational fishing and enviornmental awareness.
Q: Could you share some basic background information about Project F.I.S.H.?
A: “It was started back in 1995 … The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNRE) didn’t have a sports fishing and aquatic education program - Project F.I.S.H was developed to fill that need in the state.”
“The DNRE, the MUCC, 4-H and MSU Extension decided to get together to create this program … We called it Project F.I.S.H. because it was owned by everyone, not just one entity … We chose the 4-H model to do to do this program to give kids long-term, continuous contact with sports fishing. That way, we can get the adults involved too, because sometimes the way to get to the adults is through the kids.”
“(Project F.I.S.H) is based on the national sports fishing model. We sent people to New York to be trained on a national level. The idea was to have eight people who came back from national training come back to Michigan to train others.”
“(People involved in Roject F.I.S.H.) are trained in all five components of project F.I.S.H.: aquatic ecology, angled skills, tackle crafting, people and fish management, and program coordination. We’ve been doing that since 1997 and have trained over 900 volunteers in the state and representatives from over 37 other states.”
When we do workshops we take people through all five of those components
They understand it and then they have fun because that’s what it’s all about
If its kind of a hassle then they wont do it
Q: What are some of the projects Project F.I.S.H. works on throughout the year?
A: “We work locally amongst schools to teach outdoors, to teach about the environment … We coordinate service projects like plants in parks cleaning up stream banks, raising salmon in the classroom, drain labeling … We work with the school districts of Holt, Haslett, Bath, Laingsburg and Lansing to do these things.”
(Our programs are) based around the Grand River watershed … We try to get into schools and encourage people to use their community to teach about community to benefit community … Teachers are calling me to teach about the environment to get kids more interested in the environment … it’s really cool stuff.”
Q: How has the downturn in the Michigan and national economies affected Project F.I.S.H.?
A: “We live off of grants, so every year I’m wondering if I have a job or not. With the change in the economy, DNRE license sales are dropping dramatically – their budget has been played with. People’s private donations have waned because they don’t have the money to give to Project F.I.S.H. We’ve reverted to going to sportsmans clubs and getting donations, which helps, but we’re primarily living off grants, which is not a good way to live because our program could be cut at anytime.”
“If we want to grow the program more than it is then we need more money to do so. We’re selling tee shirts, and we started a new project called Warm Dirt Coffee, where we’re selling fair trade coffee to promote Project F.I.S.H.”
“We also encourage everybody who goes fishing to buy a license … for 2.00 …With every license sold in the state of Michigan, 9.86 comes back to Michigan to do fisheries programs … (People who buy licenses) are then being stewards of our DNRE and our Great Lakes … they are actually donating that money to the DNRE.”
“Project fish schools will sometimes have a pizza party where the ticket into the pizza party is a fishing license. It creates stewardship in these kids.”
“Anybody can buy a license and help the DNRE … We’ve been promoting that for 5-6 years and kids licenses are starting to go up a little bit – we like it.”
Q: Why is it important for kids to be made aware of environmental recreation and issues?
A: “It’s a scary thought, but they’re going to be voters someday. Someone who’s eight years old now will be 18 in ten years. Right now we have people making decisions about our natural resources that know nothing about our natural resources, and that’s something that needs to change.”
“Also, the outdoors is place to relax; you can learn a lot about life just from being out there about why we’re here and all that. Experiencing nature, getting in the water – it’s the peace and serenity, it’s the nature that needs to be more recognized.”
“There’s a book out right now called Last Child in the Woods: A Nation Suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder. It talked about how our nation wasn’t green anymore … and how they’re starting to link A.D.D. to not having anytime outdoors … (There’s a) huge push for environmental consciousness (in the nation) right now because people are really catching on that we need to go outside more.”
Q: Any other comments about the organization?
A: “Project F.I.S.H. isn’t just about fishing, although we definitely encourage young people to get out there and fish. It’s more of a mentor-based, spend sometime with an adult, get outdoors program. Fishing is the hook.”
“For more info, people should go to our website at http://www.projectfish.org/. I want people to know we’re there.”